Overall rating: 4/5
Diesels dominate the premium compact segment, which is why Audi went to the trouble of updating its 2.0 TDI engine. Now lighter and with 150hp it's not only the performance choice in the line-up, it's also the most frugal. Fun to drive and cheap to run, the Audi A3 2.0 TDI would be our choice.
In the Metal:
Let's be honest:, in the looks department the new Audi A3 is no game-changer. However, familiarity aside for a moment, it remains the epitome of class and premium in this segment. Sport models come with 17-inch alloy wheels and 15mm lower suspension, though our test car used standard suspension.
It's not even a game-changer inside, yet not because its rivals offer the same quality or neat design, but because this cabin is good enough to be mistaken for an interior from one of the firm's larger (and more expensive) models. The MMI controller has been redesigned and remains the most intuitive to use in the sector, while boot space increases by 15 litres to 365 litres in total.
Having experienced the 1.8-litre TFSI variant earlier in the day and come away slightly underwhelmed we weren't sure what to expect from this 2.0-litre TDI. After all, the former is billed as the performance model (until the S3 arrives that is) and the highlight of this diesel's spec sheet seem to be its low emissions and great fuel economy.
And highlights they are - this four-cylinder diesel emits only 106g/km (making it only €160 for annual road tax) and driven sensibly will return nearly 70mpg, the sort of numbers you'd expect from an eco-special. But this particular A3 has a sting in its tail, in the form of 150hp and - more importantly - 320Nm of torque available all the way from 1,750- to 3,000rpm.
The result? Five minutes behind the wheel will convince you that this diesel should, in the interim at least, be crowned the performance flagship. Power delivery is smooth linear while refinement remains high. There's little in the way of traditional diesel clatter, either at idle or speed, and in-gear acceleration is lively.
The first car to use the Volkswagen Group's new MQB platform, the A3 also boasts some lightweight body construction and an engine block 5kg lighter than the previous unit. And it's thanks to this that it changes direction neatly and without fuss - and even without quattro four-wheel drive has plenty of grip. However, it's still no dynamic masterpiece, the feel and feedback-free steering being a bugbear of ours.
The firm's Drive Select system, which alters the throttle, steering and, when connected to an automatic gearbox, the gear shift patterns as well, improves matters slightly but in the end the BMW 1 Series is more fun to drive.
What you get for your Money:
All Audi A3 models come with alloy wheels, aux-in connection, Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning and Audi's MMI radio with electric folding 5.8-inch information screen. Audi Ireland hasn't yet decided on whether it will offer Sport and S line, but if it does then the Sport model is likely to include climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, Audi Drive Select, sports cloth seats, aluminium interior trim and sports suspension.
The entry-level Audi A3 is the 1.2 TFSI 105, which comes in at €25,900 on-the-road.
There's also a 1.6-litre diesel on the way. Unsurprisingly this model is more efficient, with a combined economy around 74mpg (3.8 litres/100km) and CO2 emissions are 99g/km - impressive figures in their own right. However, when the quicker 2.0-litre TDI is almost as clean, we're not sure we'd choose the smaller engine model - especially as its no less to tax. Though it will be cheaper to buy of course.
The 2.0-litre diesel is quick, refined, economical, efficient and even quite good fun to drive; this particular A3 manages to tick more boxes than any other in the range.